On April 12, America commemorated the 160th anniversary of the American Civil War which was considered a “transitional war” due to many aspects. On April 9, 2015, around 6,000 people gathered in Virginia’s Appomattox Court House National Historical Park to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the war where the exact Battle of Appomattox was re-enacted. Bells also rang outside the McLean House after 3:00 p.m. which is when the meeting between Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Union General Ulysses S. Grant ended. Undoubtedly, the damage, casualties, and bloodshed that battles entail are dilemmas to ponder on when contemplating the wars, but no one can deny the importance and significance that the Civil War had on American modern history. But why is that? What makes a Civil War this influential and significant? Before diving deep into these questions, let us first go back in time to learn a bit more about the Civil War.
The American Civil War, also known as the War of the States, was a four-year war that happened from 1861 to 1865 and was fought between the Northern States that were loyal to the Union and the Southern States that had declared independence and vowed to form the Confederate States of America in the United States. Let's journey into the history and significance of the American Civil War.
Confederates vs. The Union
It was comprised of the U.S. states that were loyal to President Abraham Lincoln’s federal government which were the states of: Maine, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, California, Nevada, and Oregon.
The Confederacy, however, consisted of 11 Southern States that seceded from the Union and functioned as a separate government on their own. These included the states of: Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. They were led by Jefferson Davis.
The Main Motivation
The American Civil War was the result of a long battle between proponents and opponents of slavery that began with the country's founding. It happened because the South relied solely on slavery in its economy, while at that time, the North was extremely modernizing and becoming more industrialized. The sectional rivalry between Northern and slave-holding Southern States had been offset by a series of political agreements, but by the late 1850s, the question of slavery's expansion to the Western States had reached a boiling point. Then, in 1860, the election of Abraham Lincoln, a member of the anti-slavery Republican Party, sparked the secession of 11 Southern States, resulting in a civil war.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act, passed by the United States Congress in 1854, effectively opened all new territories to slavery by asserting the rule of common supremacy over congressional edict. In "Bleeding Kansas," pro and anti-slavery movements clashed violently, while resistance to the act in the North resulted in the creation of the Republican Party, a new political body founded on the basis of resisting slavery's expansion into Western Territories.
Into the War
The American Civil War was the most significant incident in the country's history. That's because it determined what kind of country America would become. Actually, what determined the outcome of the Civil War was it’s battles. This war featured the bloodiest and grandest battles in American history. These were: Battle of First Bull Run, the Battle of Shiloh, the Seven Days Battle, the Battle of Antietam, The Battle of Fredericksburg, the Battle of Chancellorsville, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the Battle of Chickamauga. Let’s dive into the deadliest one of them all: the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
The Battle of Gettysburg
The Confederate states were ravaged by the Civil War. Because of the massive armies deployed in the countryside, cattle, crops, and other necessities rapidly depleted. Consequently, in the summer of 1863, Confederate General, Robert E. Lee, initiated an invasion of the North in order to collect fresh supplies and alleviate the burden on the Confederate fortress at Vicksburg, Mississippi. This led to a 3-day battle near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania during which Lee was defeated by Union General, George G. Meade, and left around 51,000 men killed, severely injured, or missing. Although Lee's men were successful in collecting essential supplies, they did almost nothing to divert Union forces away from Vicksburg, which was seized by Federal troops on July 4, 1863. This epic defeat was considered by historians as a “turning point” during the Civil War.
The main Confederate armies surrendered to the United States in April of 1865 at Appomattox Court House and Bennett Place, ending a four-year war. This war crippled most of the South, devastated its streets, fields, and factories, and nearly abolished an entire generation of men from both the Union and Confederacy. Then, over the course of twenty years known as the Reconstruction Era, Union soldiers conquered the Southern States, reconstructed the damage in them, and eventually re-joined them to the United States.
A Transitional War
It is not haphazardly that the Civil War was dubbed a transitional war, as it changed American society religiously, technologically, and it even had a great impact on literature as well.
The death toll was exponential and roughly 2 percent of the U.S. population at that time (some said it could be as high as 851,000). This had influenced Americans who were deeply religious and struggled to know how a compassionate God would allow that much destruction and death in their country and to their people. But when Americans, both north and south, comforted themselves with the idea that heaven looked like their loved ones, views of the afterlife changed. They also adopted new ways of preserving the dead, such as a method known as embalming which helped wealthy families to bring their dead sons back home.
In addition to that, the war profoundly influenced technological advancement. There were several breakthroughs and innovations, mainly in relation to weapons. Many “firsts” happened during the Civil War, starting with ironclad warships colliding, the telegraph played a major role, and the railroads were widely used. It was the first war where rifled ordnance and shell guns were used extensively, along with the introduction of machine guns called the Gatling gun. Extensive newspaper coverage was also a major breakthrough, as well as servicemen being allowed to vote in national elections in the field, and photographic documentation. Not only that but during this war, land and sea mines were utilized, as well as having a submarine that was capable of sinking a warship.
Moreover, the Civil War also had its effects on literature- few other wars in history have received as much attention in writing as the Civil War. More than 60,000 books and articles have been written about this war, leaving a great reservoir of information and knowledge for generations to come.
Legacy of the War
While the Civil War was extremely devastating and deadly, no one can deny it’s main and ultimate effect that completely transformed the United States: putting an end to slavery. Celebrating the 160th anniversary of the Civil War this April meant that the legacy of the war, those who fought in it, and it’s main cause is still alive and would always be throughout American generations for years to come.